Sunday, 16 September 2012

Album Review - Stanley Odd - Reject

I've always struggled with UK hip-hop.  I think it's only fair that I'm honest about it, as I'm sure I'm far from the only one.  Having been brought up with the west coast drawls of Dre, Snoop and 2Pac, and as I've never really immersed myself deep into the roots of hip-hop, I suppose my natural association has always been to put hip-hop and American accents together in the same gangsta box.

There are of course always exceptions.  Scoobius Pip, Mike Skinner and Roots Manuva spring to mind as people who have captured my interest in their beats and lyrics despite not professing an American accent.  And now to that exceptions list I can add Stanley Odd, an Edinburgh based, 6-piece hip-hop group who release their second album 'Reject' via Circular Records on Monday 17th September.

Opener 'THIS IS STANLEY ODD' reads a bit like a manifesto for the band and the album.  Lead MC Dave Hook a.k.a. Solareye delivers a manifesto bemoaning the state of the country, while the chorus is the repeated taunting refrain "do I have to spell it out for you?" delivered by the smooth vocals of Veronika.

'Antiheroics' is a fantastic piece of music with loops, bass drops and beats keeping things sonically ticking over while Solareye delivers a political rap to rival some of the best.  From addressing the BNP to the ConDem coalition, from the independence referendum to the lack of youth interest in politics, nothing escapes the glare of Dave's eye.  The track contains some extremely witty and clever rhymes, name checking political parties and MP's to great effect.  It also contains one of the best and most insightful lines I've heard in a long time in any genre of music; "putting an X in the box says you're watching back".

And I think that's the great thing about the Scottish hip-hop community.  As hip-hop has always been able to do, with it's largely vocal based output, bands such as Stanley Odd can address the mic with real songs about serious issues, such as in 'Antiheroics' and 'Marriage Counselling', and also the less appealing side of society, such as in 'Will The Last One Out Please Turn Out The Light' and 'Carry Me Home'.  There's no expectation to create flower metaphor for love, no desire to hear idiosyncratic stories of boy meets girl, instead a captive ear ready to hear what many are thinking but not a lot are saying.

Recent single 'Killergram' has a fantastic choral hook and a booming bassline line, while Solareye tackles a subject fans of hip-hop will be all too familiar with; violence and self bravado.  Mocking the 'hard man' attitude, that leaves many "stumbling into A&E, pissed off" whilst showing brutal honesty admitting that for, perhaps too long, he was just the same.  It's no wonder the track was put out as a single, it's catchy, insightful and one of the highlights of the album.

'Join The Club' has a laid back vibe, smooth and slightly jazzy, basically like the old school west coast hip-hop I was raised on, while name-checking no less than 53 different bars and clubs across Scotland (see how many you can spot!)  Stanley Odd don't shy away from addressing the Scottish love/hate relationship with alcohol, and while 'Join The Club' celebrates a good night out, next track 'Carry Me Home' examines the terrible affliction that too many Scots suffer from with alcohol.  The name alone alludes to the inebriated state of being unable to walk home, and there's plenty of lines that many of us could (and maybe should) relate to.

'Get Out Ma Headspace' is another track some might be familiar with, released as a free single earlier this year.  Bemoaning the innate and mundane, amidst a musical smorgasboard of bleeps, loops, blips, hooks and drops.  Another favourite line contained here; "I use my headspace for my than a hat rack".  Wonderful stuff.

'The Counsellor's Waiting Room', which could be straight of a Serge Gainsbourg album, segues into album highlight 'Marriage Counselling'.   It's a great concept, Scotland (Caledonia) and the UK (Britannia) stuck in a marriage counsellor's office talking, or more aptly arguing, about the love/hate relationship.  Unless you've been living in a cave the relevance to Scottish and UK politics is clear, and Solareye presents a very well balanced outline of the most prominent arguments on both sides.

Overall this album should convert those who, maybe like myself, have never dug deeper into the genre of hip-hop.  Some people will simple not be able to look past the Scottish accent, which I suppose is their choice but also their loss.  In 'Reject' Stanley Odd have an album which rivals the beats, rhymes and hooks of anyone operating in the genre of hip-hop right now.  And further to that they are not afraid to mix in other genres too, and hold up a truthful mirror in many respects.  This album contains many moments of brilliance for those willing to listen.

Stanley Odd - 'Reject' is out on Monday 17th September via Circular Records.  You can pre-order the album right now on their Big Cartel page, and the album will be available digitally and in good record stores.

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